Morning After Reflection: 5 June 1942 “we sank a carrier”

They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war. More than that, they added a new name— Midway— to that small list that inspires men by shining example. Like Marathon , the Armada, the Marne, a few others, Midway showed that every once in a while “what must be” need not be at all. Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit— a magic blend of skill, faith and valor—that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory.

Walter Lord; Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway

Pat returns

An SBD dive bomber (6B15) of Bombing Squadron Six, on the deck of USS Yorktown. The aircraft was flown by Ensign G.H. Goldsmith and ARM3c J. W. Patterson, Jr., during the June 4, 1942 strike against the Japanese carriers Kaga and Akagi. Note the battle damage on the tail.

For those who’ve followed this site, you know that in early June I always put together something on the Battle of Midway and always pay tribute to my first post flight school boss, LCDR Pat Patterson. See the 2013 post:

What kind of war was it? – “How do I know, I saw the whole thing backwards!” June 4-7, 1942 at Midway

The picture above is a recent find of Pat’s SBD right after landing on USS Yorktown rather than on Bombing Six’s own USS Enterprise.  As noted below, due to landing on Yorktown rather than Enterprise, Pat and his pilot were listed as missing in action along with nine other aircrews of Bombing Six in the initial action report by Enterprise’s commanding officer.

Action Report 8 June, 1942: Battle of Midway Island, June 4 – 6, 1942 — Report of Commanding Officer USS Enterprise (CV-6), Captain G.D. Murray

The report on the 13th would reduce VB-6’s losses to 7 pilots and 8 gunners with total Air group losses at 31 aircraft, 24 pilots and 25 gunners. (Note, then we must add Hornet and Yorktown losses – including all of Torpedo Squadron Eight – to understand the the magnitude of that battle, of that victory)

Action Report 13 June 1942: Air Battle of the Pacific, June 4-6, 1942, report of Commanding Officer USS Enterprise (CV-6), Captain G.D. Murray

Captain Murray would conclude:

CONCLUSION: ENTERPRISE Air Group, both pilots and gunners, displayed a spirit of utter fearlessness, resolution and determination throughout all air actions. This spirit, though shared by pilots and gunners alike, found its highest expression in the person of the Air Group Commander, LtComdr C.W. McClusky, Jr. U.S.N. On June 4, prior to intercepting the main enemy forces, it was his decision, and his decision alone, that made the attack possible which lead to the destruction of a major part of the enemy forces. It is the considered opinion of the Commanding Officer that the success of our forces hinged upon this attack. Any other action on the part of LtComdr McClusky would inevitably have lead to irreparable loss to our forces.

The entire ENTERPRISE Air Group merits the highest praise and commendation for a hazardous job well done. In separate correspondence, recommendations for awards and citations will be submitted.

Pat had to abandon ship on Yorktown – jumping over the side. Picked up by a destroyer, he never stated when he actually returned to his squadron on board the Enterprise.

I’ve often wondered what thoughts were in his head on the 5th of June, but here is what is written in Walter Lord’s book:

Wade McClusky , leading the group, had a picture of a clean hardwood deck, an untouched island on the starboard side, some planes tuning up toward the stern. Earl Gallaher, coming in fourth, saw fountains of water from two near-misses, the blinding flash of his own bomb landing among the parked planes. Dusty Kleiss, seventh to dive, found the after end of the ship a sea of flames, the painted red circle up forward still untouched— then his own bomb changed that. And so it went until Ensign George Goldsmith, the 25th and last man down, had his turn too. By now the carrier was a blazing wreck, swinging hard to the right in a desperate effort to ward off further blows. Goldsmith kept her in his sights.

In the rear seat, Radioman James Patterson called off the altitude as they plunged down. During dive bombing practice they normally released at about 2,200 feet. This time 2,000 spun past the altimeter, and they were still going straight down. Then 1,500 and finally Goldsmith pulled the release. Patterson watched the results with amazement: “He had been the world’s worst dive bomber pilot during the practice hops I’d flown with him previously, but that day Ensign Goldsmith earned every dime invested in him as he put our bomb right through the flight deck, just aft of amidships.”

Pat was 19.

So here’s to you my friend, to Ens Lew Hopkins in SBD Dauntless 6B12 (awarded the Navy Cross and retired as an admiral), and all who shaped the course of carrier aviation.

Fly Navy, the BEST Always Have.

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Not on My Watch – In Memory of Dave ‘Snako’ Kelly

I attended the Celebration of Life for Dave Snako Kelly on Saturday 3 May on-board USS Midway.Hot afternoon but not nearly as hot and humid as it was 42 years ago in the Gulf of Tonkin.Not on my watch Dave and all the rest of us were about to learn about real air war over North Vietnam. We were about to become “these good men.”

Dave was a great friend, superb Naval Aviator, member of VA-115 flying the A-6 Intruder off of Midway on the ’72 war cruise. He is also the author of the recently published story of his flying years Not On MY Watch.

For anyone who has followed Remembered Sky, you are aware that several chapters of his book have been posted here beginning with the Prologue.  Snako was co-“owner” for Remembered Sky. Below is the Epilogue to Not on My Watch.

Epilogue Continue reading

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A Dawn Like Thunder: In tribute to the men of Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8)

Only 30 copies of this movie were made and they were given to the families of Torpedo Squadron 8. The Youtube version comes from the wife of squadron commander John Waldron.

Fly Navy, the best Always Have

These good men will never be forgotten.

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What kind of war was it? – “How do I know, I saw the whole thing backwards!” June 4-7, 1942 at Midway

Battle of Midway, Commanding Officer, USS Enterprise, Serial 0133 of 8 June 1942

At Sea June 8, 1942
From: The Commanding Officer.
To: The Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet
Via: Commander Task Force Sixteen.
(Rear Admiral R.A. Spruance, U.S. Navy).

Subject: Battle of Midway Island, June 4 – 6, 1942 — Report of.

1.) The attack delivered upon enemy carriers by the torpedo squadrons of our forces is believed to be without parallel for determined and courageous action in the face of overwhelming odds. These crews were observed to commence their attack against heavy anti-aircraft fire from the enemy carriers and supporting vessels while opposed by enemy Zero fighters in large numbers. The enemy fighter opposition was so strong and effective that ten torpedo planes out of fourteen of Torpedo Squadron SIX did not return. It is recommended that the Navy Cross be awarded to each pilot and gunner of Torpedo Squadron SIX who participated in this bold and heroic attack. A separate letter containing details of all aircraft attacks and specific recommendations for awards will be submitted. …
7.) It is extremely difficult to determine the extent of the damage inflicted upon the enemy by Enterprise, as the air groups of all carriers, as well as land based aircraft at Midway, participated in continuous attacks on enemy units throughout the three days action. Based upon reports available to Enterprise, it is estimated the following damage was inflicted upon the enemy:

3 CV’s sunk.
1 CV on fire and badly damaged (probably sank night of June 5).
1 CA wrecked and abandoned.
3 CA heavily bombed.
3 DD sunk.

As a very young Lieutenant Junior Grade, I often kidded LCDR Pat Patterson that I didn’t know anyone so old they’d been in the Battle of Midway, so could he tell me what it was like. His reply – “What do I know, I was 19 years old and saw the whole thing backwards?” When he retired, I was the good humor man for his dinner. I got a copy of the Victory at Sea episode (3 parts) on Midway and ran it backwards. Continue reading

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June 4th 1942 – It begins

Preface to Blown Slick -the series: The evolution of fighter, attack, and strike warfare

All days come from one day, that much you must know.

You  cannot change what’s over, but only where you go…

The road that leads to nowhere, the road that leads to you…

Will you find the answer in all you say and do, will you find the answer in you?

Each heart is a pilgrim, each one wants to know, the reasons why the winds die and where their stories go

Pilgrim in your journey you may travel far, for pilgrim its a long way to find out who you are

Pilgrim by Enya


Naval Aviation marks its birthday as 8 May, 1911, but the single day that matters most is June 4th 1942 at the Battle of Midway. If one wears Wings of Gold, therein resides the metric to which you must always aspire. Continue reading

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Year of War- Reflection

(Please note that this is being posted on 25 March 2015, after reflection on previous offerings)

midway-1189b Remembered Sky began so as to tell the ’72-’73 story of USS Midway, Carrier Airwing FiveAlpha Strike Vietnam and to further focus primarily on the Attack mission side. It emerged out of revisiting  and reflecting on my career as a Naval Aviator in light of the 100th year anniversary of Naval Aviation in addition to a re-sparking of a long term frustration with, and almost impossibility of finding anything on the carrier and airwing that set the record in the Vietnam War for days on the line, and one of only four to receive the Presidential Unit Citation – equivalent of Navy Cross at the unit level.  That of course is good old Schoolboy – USS Midway – and Fast MoversAirwing Five. For example, the very good book focused on the Navy On Yankee Stationside of the air-ground war Alpha Strike Vietnam has next to
nothing, despite the fact that one of the story tellers, John Nicholson was a VA-56 CO in 68-69. Many books for whatever reason don’t even mention Midway as being there???

In addition, it has always seemed that air-air got more “words/books” than the attack “bidness,” and the only
When Hell Was in SessionMidway/CAG 5 story with any Not on my watchlegs at all is Mugs McKeon and his two MiG kills. (good story and well deserving telling), so I wanted to tell more of the attack pilot story.

While the initial writing was mostly about the Champs and A-7s, after meeting up with old
friend Dave Kelly from A-6 VA-115, I found he had same frustrations/misgivings on USS Midway and attack side stories. And so we jointly took on “attack” When Thunder Rolledstory telling.  Dave passed away in March 2014  but before he did, he got his book Not On My Watch published.American Patriot

Several sub series have been used including parts of Snako’s book, stories of Christmas 1972, and stories of the POWs and Operation Homecoming. Further stories will be posted as they present themselves, but for now Remembered Sky will use the ’72 experience as an underpinning for other aspects of air warfare Palace Cobraincluding relationships with our past and future.Launch the Intruders

History says that the Vietnam War goes down in the U.S. lost column and that airpower did not live up to its hype. Maybe so, but with proper use of airpower in response to the NVN Easter ’72 Offensive, General Giap, the big winner at Dien Bien Phu had his ass handed to him. Here are the words from an earlier post:

Honor BoundRolling Thunder gets lots of words on ineffectiveness. But what’s not found, unless you get into the more historic analysis Fighter Pilot
by people with credentials significant enough to understand, is how truly effective air power was in staving off a major major effort by the  NVN politburo to win the war outright while N
ixon was still President and America was still involved.  If you strip off the fuzz of who, why, why not, and just look at how the air war was
fought in this period, you find a different picture, a unique story of our eleven month deployment.                                                                     11 Days of Christmas

In Love and WarAfter the Easter Offensive, North Vietnamese generals commented it would be three to five years before they could mount another offensive.  After the Christmas bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong, North Vietnam had nothing left. The war delivered by Air Force and Navy pilots had served its purpose. 

On a personal level for many of the aircrew, Mission  Number One was complete: Our Prisoners Of War came home.
That “deep story” we earned, we own.

There are many, many books on the Vietnam War, but I’ll close this simply by noting that I’ve provided some of the resources I have used and highly recommend. Further Inputs are always desired.

Those of us who came home will never forget those who could not

Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association

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Operation Homecoming Part 9: The POW 40th Reunion

If as Ev Alvarez offers in the interview from Part 8, the POWs have held their last reunion, I want to preserve for further reference the panel discussion.

POW Panel at the Nixon Library

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Operation Homecoming Part 8: The First and the Last

Beginning on 23 May, many of the Viet Nam POW gathered for a reunion in Southern California centered around the Nixon Presidential Library to celebrate not only their 40th anniversary of regaining freedom but also of their night in the White House as a guest of President and Mrs. Nixon, May 24 1973.

As first POW Ev Alvarez notes in the interview below, this may be the last reunion.  The Viet Nam generation, particularly those from the earliest days of the war are well into their seventies. The interview includes Alvarez as the first POW and Al Agnew as the last POW released from Hanoi. Al was my first jet instructor at Meridian. We did not see each other after I left for VT-4 at Pensacola until the commissioning ceremony for the USS Stockdale at Port Hueneme California 18 April 2009. I owe him much. Welcome home.

This seemed an appropriate post as I finish up this series. The first and the last…


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Operation Homecoming Part 7: Lady and the Flag

When Carole Hickerson’s husband was missing in action during the Vietnam War, she started a movement of families frustrated by a lack of information on their missing loved ones.

RememberSky Note: Carole and Jim Hickerson are great friends. Jim was Vice Commander at Pacific Missile Test Center when I was in flight test and Bill Thomas and I did a 2-plane A-7 Corair II fly-over/departing man for his retirement ceremony. He returned the favor being the speaker at my retirement.  Jim was one of the first test pilots for the A-7 and unfortunately was the pilot of the first A-7 shot down over North Viet Nam, spending over 5 years in the Hanoi Hilton. This series on Operation Homecoming began with telling the story of Jim and myself talking to high schoolers at Rio Mesa and the “story of the ropes.”

Carole  was married to a Marine CH-46 pilot shot down in South Viet Nam on 3 June 1967. She became one of the early fighters in “the war of the wives” back in the states to spread the word on the treatment and lack of knowledge about the POWs. In this capacity she designed a letterhead for the POW-MIA organization. She’s quick to point out and asked me to emphasize that she had nothing to do with designing the flag itself. Below is a story I found by Steve Murray published in Midweek in July 2010 prior to an award for Jim and Carole. I am most appreciative to Steve for allowing me to publish on Remembered Sky. It is my way of telling their story and recognizing the “above and beyond” efforts of the National League of Families of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia.

Lady and the Flag

By Steve Murray

There are some people history just won’t let us forget – many of them more infamous than famous. Then there are the countless others who go unnoticed or disappear into everyday life to be unfairly forgotten once the mission to which they have dedicated their lives has finished. Continue reading

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Operation Homecoming Part 6: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

Naval Proceedings Magazine – November 2009 Vol. 135/11/1,281

By Peter Fretwell and Taylor Baldwin Kiland

The USS Stockdale (DDG-106) was commissioned in April 2009 in Santa Barbara, California. The man for whom the destroyer is named, Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale, left the U.S. Navy an inspiring legacy. During the Vietnam War, he was the senior ranking prisoner-of-war officer at the Hoa Lo Camp, Hanoi, better known as the Hanoi Hilton.

Vice Admiral James Stockdale’s principles can inspire any organization’s leaders. Continue reading

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